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Breakfast links: Boxes big and small


Photo by Brave New Films.
DC getting in on big boxes: It was going to be a mixed-use development; instead, the area between New York and Montana Avenues and Bladensburg Road will be a Wal-Mart, fairly near the planned Costco. There's plenty of room for the usual huge parking lot and big, flat store. (O'Connell/Post, Neibauer/WBJ, DePillis/City Paper, Gavin)

Why don't Amtrak and bikes mix?: Amtrak still requires bikes to be in boxes to take on most trains, and only on those with baggage cars, which is few. How about some bike racks? Amtrak is open to the idea when they get new cars. (NARP, Gavin)

Metro improving safety: Metro is proactively taking cars out of service to fix a possible malfunction which could make doors open when they shouldn't. See, Metro is being proactive about safety! This will mean fewer trains this week, but ridership is also expected to be lighter. (Kytja Weir/Examiner)

Did you steal our trail counter?: Someone stole the infrared trail counter on the Metropolitan Branch Trail. A sign kindly asks them to return it, since it's not useful to anyone else. (TheWashCycle)

Hit and run and get away: A driver of a black Volvo hit a bicyclist and fled the scene, and a witness got 4 digits of the plate as well as the type of car and a description of the driver. But MPD doesn't seem interested in following up to see if any black Volvos match the partial plate. (Prince Of Petworth)

Fix the water, here's no money: The federal government is forcing DC to upgrade its stormwater management, but the federal government is refusing to pay the share for its own properties. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) has a bill pending to instruct federal agencies to pay stormwater fees. (Jonathan O'Connell/Post)

Reagan's actions affect Reagan today: Ronald Reagan fired the air traffic controllers in 1981, meaning most current controllers started at the same time. Now they're all retiring, and new, less experienced replacements make mistakes. There have been 22 close calls in the region in 6 months versus 18 all year last year. (Ashley Halsey/Post)

Does DC need to up its game?: Lydia DePillis responds to my response to her musings about what Tysons means for DC. If more walkable urbanism will eventually come to Fairfax, does DC need to up its game to keep growth here, with better schools, housing, business, safety and more? DC should be and is doing all this no matter what.

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David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

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Re: Walmart - I expect the DC City Council to try to impose all sorts of restrictions on Walmart to curry favor with labor unions, environmentalists, small business owners, Smart Growthers, etc. But since Walmart apparently doesn't need any zoning changes or subsidies, there's not much of a hook for government-sanctioned extortion.

Re: Storm-water fees - I think the issue is the creative way WASA designed the fee (based on impermeable surfaces, rather than actual water usage) in order to maximize its revenue collection. I wonder if they had gone with a tax on usage, if the feds wouldn't have made an issue of it.

Re: Air traffic controllers - Not sure how Reagan's 30-year old firing of controllers is to blame for the FAA not doing enough to attract newer controllers over the ensuing decades so they wouldn't have a sudden brain drain.

by Fritz on Jul 6, 2010 9:38 am • linkreport

I'm not so sure it's fair to blame Ronald Reagan for the retiring air traffic controllers. The striking controllers he fired were breaking the law. Federal employees may unionize but may not strike.

Giving Federal unions the ability to strike would give them unilateral power to stop essential government services and hold the public hostage to whatever petty grievances they have this week. Curtailing the Federal government's operating and enforcement power is the role of the democratically elected Congress and democratically elected President--- not the role of the AFL-CIO.

by Eric F. on Jul 6, 2010 9:45 am • linkreport

OK, I agree that I was being too clever in the headline and text. I didn't mean to start a big labor debate, though feel free to debate it anyway. I've adjusted it to seem less blaming Reagan.

by David Alpert on Jul 6, 2010 9:47 am • linkreport

Don't forget Eric F, it's also all Reagan's fault that they haven't hired and trained an adequate number of replacement controllers over the past 25 years when they knew this mass retirement event would take place. Or should I say "Thanks to Reagan" they didn't anticipate that. The Thanks To idiom is so crass.

by Lou on Jul 6, 2010 9:50 am • linkreport

I expect the DC City Council to try to impose all sorts of restrictions on Walmart to curry favor with labor unions, environmentalists, small business owners, Smart Growthers, etc.

DC is one of the most liberal constituencies in the country. Of course, the city council is going to favor liberal politics. It's also worth remembering that DC is a city -- not a suburb, and that this particular big-box planning model may be severely misguided for a large and rapidly-growing city, especially when similar developments are failing around the country.

Of course, it's tempting to put something on that site. It's mostly vacant, and definitely blighted. Ivy City and the NY Ave corridor certainly could use some love. However, NY Ave is a traffic-choked pseudo-freeway that has few transit connections. Building a Wal-Mart on the site could actually increase the blight in the surrounding areas.

For now, though, it's a chicken-and-egg situation. The area won't get nicer until somebody develops it, and no desirable tenant going to touch that parcel until the surrounding area gets nicer, and a reasonable transit connection to the downtown core is built.

If you haven't noticed from the rest of my post, I'm not categorically opposed to the construction of a Wal-Mart. However, it needs to be built in a transit-accessible location, and in such a way that the structure won't blight the surrounding area.

by andrew on Jul 6, 2010 10:06 am • linkreport

thanks for changing the headline. Not even sure why that article was in the links.

Fritz; I agree the problem is the way WASA (and other agencies across the country) are computing the amount owed. However, to be clear, it is for stormwater -- and so is not directly related to the amount of water used. I'm sure there is some sort of correlation between building size and amount of water used and amount of wastewater generated.

The numbers don't add up. WASA wants $2.1 billion for the new tunnel, but the feds (largest landowner) are only on the hook for 2.1 million?

by charlie on Jul 6, 2010 10:06 am • linkreport

MPD says it's "a time consuming process" to run a partial license plate through a system to find any that match make and model. If this is so, it seems inexcusable. Cops should be able to make simple queries like this from their mobile devices.

by Ken Archer on Jul 6, 2010 10:07 am • linkreport

it's also all Reagan's fault that they haven't hired and trained an adequate number of replacement controllers over the past 25 years when they knew this mass retirement event would take place. Or should I say "Thanks to Reagan" they didn't anticipate that.

And Bush, and Clinton, and Bush, and Obama. Most of the folks being hired now to be air traffic controllers likely weren't born when Reagan fired the ATCs 29 years ago.

by ah on Jul 6, 2010 10:15 am • linkreport

Fritz and charlie,
The way WASA and other compute the fee charged is the best way we know to try and charge equitably for storm water collection. The fees are basically charged on a per square foot of impervious surface basis. The more impervious surface (i.e. rooftop or asphalt) you have the greater your fee. This makes sense. If you have a 1 acre lot that is completely covered by asphalt, you're property is going to send a lot more run off into the storm sewer than someone with a lot that is only half covered.

Also, the numbers don't seem to add up because you're comparing a one-time capital cost to an annual fee. WASA can finance the cost of that $2.1 billion investment in the new tunnel because they'll have millions in additional annual income from the storm water fees. If the feds won't pay that $2.1 million, either WASA will have to raise the rates on everyone else or they'll have to scale back the construction plans. Since they're under a consent decree, it'll likely be the former.

by Fred in RVA on Jul 6, 2010 10:24 am • linkreport

@Fred - the question is still a reasonable one. The financing costs of $2.1B must be on the order of $100m/year (that's 5%). $2.1m is a pretty small portion of that.

by ah on Jul 6, 2010 10:54 am • linkreport

If you haven't noticed from the rest of my post, I'm not categorically opposed to the construction of a Wal-Mart. However, it needs to be built in a transit-accessible location, and in such a way that the structure won't blight the surrounding area.
Has a Walmart ever been constructed in a way that does not blight the surrounding areas?

Genuinely curious with that question.

Also, I tend to think Walmart is on the way down. Labor in China is starting to assert its rights after all these many years. Where else is the super cheap and oft times exploited labor going to come from? Are we not yet tapped out?

by Jazzy on Jul 6, 2010 10:54 am • linkreport

@Fred

My issue is this: Does the guy with an acre of asphalt have a WASA account? Does he have a water meter and get a bill? If not, then the very act of owning property will now require a payment? Something about that seems odd.

I still say that the best way to go, especially to avoid federal balking over fees vs. taxes, is to just raise rates to cover the costs of what is needed to provide service and upgrade/maintain the water and sewer system. It may be less equitable than charging directly based on land coverage area, but it's certainly less bureaucratic and will all but ensure that the Feds pay what is required to maintain the system they use.

by Adam Lewis on Jul 6, 2010 10:57 am • linkreport

The point I was making about the fee structure is that 2.1 million, spread out to all the other WASA customers, isn't that much of a burden. What is that, $100 for everyone else. Or are there larger fees coming up?

by charlie on Jul 6, 2010 11:09 am • linkreport

DC residents already shop at WalMart, they just drive to Kingstowne or PG County to do it. So the idea that WalMart is not for us sophisticated city residents is a pure myth. The WalMart in DC will be an unmitigated financial success because DC residents will shop there.

by urbaner on Jul 6, 2010 11:18 am • linkreport

Of course people would shop there. People would shop at a store called Shop Here. Or even Don't Shop Here.

We love to shop.

People everywhere love to shop.

Has someone said no one would shop there?

by Jazzy on Jul 6, 2010 11:27 am • linkreport

I am usually not a fan of your typical big box development...

However, in this case where it would be done in a currently economic worthless blight on the city map, overrun by junk car lots and strip clubs, I am all for it.

A typical Walmart does approx $400 dollars of gross sales per sq/ft per year. Their typical 200K sq/ft foot print would therefore do about 80 million per year in gross sales. At %5.75, the city collects ~$4.6 million per year in sales tax.

And as someone said, without some solid existing retail in place, no one else is going to come in and spend money developing the area.

Add on that each Walmart brings with it ~350 jobs and you have a pretty good idea for this area of DC.

Unfortunately, I am sure most of those jobs will go to MD residents because for some reason, DC residents don't seem to ever apply for these kinds of jobs, but whatever..

Now multiply all that by 2 if we get both a Costco and a Walmart and reasonable people would agree this is a very good thing for that specific area of the District

by nookie on Jul 6, 2010 11:42 am • linkreport

Sigh. The problem here is that nookie, Jazzy, and myself are probably *all* correct.

Wal Mart *will* bring ~350 new jobs to the area. This is unquestionably a good thing.
BUT Wal Mart's wages and benefits are almost criminally low. If those 350 workers will require subsidies in order to live in the district, the deal becomes much less desirable. If the site is inaccessible to transit, the workers are screwed even further. (By comparison, Costco offers far better compensation and benefits)

Wal Mart *will* bring ~$5million each year into DC. The city could certainly use that money, considering how badly it currently gets screwed by the geography of our region. Also, low-income families will be able to buy nice things.
BUT there may be a (currently unknown) impact on local businesses. Fortunately(?), there are few businesses in the area to displace.

Wal Mart *will* develop on a site that no other developer wants to touch. Honestly, it'd be difficult for the NY Ave corridor to get much *worse*
BUT Once Wal Mart develops the site, nobody will ever be willing to touch the surrounding areas. Opportunities for growth and development in this region may be cut off entirely, especially considering the inevitable road traffic issues. It may also preclude us from rethinking/revitalizing that corridor (Two-sentence plan: bury NY Ave as a cut & cover tunnel, resign as I-395; turn NY Ave into a tree-lined boulevard on the surface with streetcar/light-rail, and build high-density residential units along the strip. Leave room for a future metrorail line)

I've been hearing this compared to the Columbia Heights Target. Although I don't personally like the DCUSA Target, it's a *much* different, and vastly better model than what Wal Mart are proposing. DCUSA is directly adjacent to a centrally-located Metro station on two lines, and is walkable to several thousand residences. The Wal Mart site has no transit, and isn't walkable to any residential neighborhood.

by andrew on Jul 6, 2010 12:52 pm • linkreport

The Wal-Mart site is accessible by several bus lines that run in NE and SE.

Wal-Mart may be among the few big-box retailers to move into DC without the hefty bribe of tax abatement or capital investment subsidies. That's the most surprising thing.

by Eric F. on Jul 6, 2010 1:14 pm • linkreport

I really don't see this parcel being a good candidate for dense walkable urbanism in the next 20 years. It's in no man's land. This Walmart could be a placeholder that generates revenue for a couple of decades sort of like the strip mall at Potomac Yards has...

by Paul on Jul 6, 2010 1:22 pm • linkreport

Its better to have a Walmart in DC than to have residents travel to either Landover, Alexandria, Germantown, Clinton or Laurel which arent that easy to get to by transit.

People can say can go to the ones in MD & VA but how do they get there. As for transportation I think the E2/3, B2, D4 go somewhat near there.

I would bet that once WMATA or DC saw a huge increase in the bus ridership over in the area that a route would be created going down New York Ave.

by kk on Jul 6, 2010 1:48 pm • linkreport

The dreams of a Walmart downstairs and apartments upstairs is simply not feasible - Abdo tried to get financing for years for his Arboretum Development project and that went nowhere.

Since Walmart is now looking to move into urban cores, it will be far more interesting to see what kind of building they propose and whether they'd do something like seek a high LEED rating. And if they plan on offering grocery services, then that fills a big hole in the food desert in that area.

And, as was pointed out above, other jurisdictions offer Walmart all sorts of financial subsidies to bring them to town; DC hasn't offered Walmart anything and yet they're still planning to locate here. That's a pretty impressive statement about DC's financial condition and market viability.

Between Costco, Walmart and Home Depot, Ward 5 has a whole lot of job opportunities for local residents without college degrees. Yet will local residents actually seek jobs there or, more likely, will it be MD and VA residents who seek and accept those job positions? I wouldn't be surprised if the city Council comes up with some new law requiring that any company with more than X square feet of square footage must hire 90% DC residents. But, if Walmart really isn't asking for any gov't money, then there's no opportunity for gov't extortion.

by Fritz on Jul 6, 2010 2:05 pm • linkreport

+1 Paul

by spookiness on Jul 6, 2010 4:15 pm • linkreport

Amtrak california allows bikes on all trains. You can check the bikes or load them yourself into the provided bike racks.

by J on Jul 6, 2010 5:04 pm • linkreport

Wal-Mart has done a few multi-story locations, mostly retrofits of stores they've acquired, like the one in South Central LA. Otherwise, they have zero imagination and a command and control model of management that will try to sell DCers the stuff that sells in bumfuck Arkansas. The location is not transit rich in the ways that Columbia Heights is, nor are 350 low wage jobs much of an asset to DC, esp. if the jobholders live in PG County (where I suspect most will dwell). It may generate some sales tax, but Wal-Mart's same location, year to year sale s have been dropping. The Costco will be better long-term asset for the District. The Wal-Mart will just add to the perception of blight.

DePellis is glib and shallow in her response to David, just like her original piece. Hopefully, the City Paper will lose her to the Post, which seems to have an affirmative action program for Metro reporters who know nothing about the area or their subject matter.

by Rich on Jul 6, 2010 5:34 pm • linkreport

management that will try to sell DCers the stuff that sells in bumfuck Arkansas

Such as essentials like groceries, that you can't get in many parts of the District.

Plus, why so bitter? If the store sucks so bad, it won't survive. Your anger probably stems from the fact that people will actually shop there.

by MPC on Jul 6, 2010 5:42 pm • linkreport

@Jazzy, Has a Walmart ever been constructed in a way that does not blight the surrounding areas?

Check out the newer American cities where the Walmart is a real value added. What's probably coming to mind for you when you think of Walmarts is those Walmarts on the fringe of large (and medium) old cities like Washington where they tend to get located in less than desirable areas. But if you look at them in newer cities, they actually are very nice, filled with shoppers from all walks of life, and often the anchor for their neighborhoods ... allowing middleclass families to buy the type (and quantity) of goods that otherwise they couldn't afford. I'd suggest checking out a Walmart in say Chesapeake or Columbia to see what I mean. The problem is only when they come to a place like DC where because of land values they end up in parts of town that no one really wants to go to and employing people who generally don't have an inkling what good customer service is. The Home Depot on Rhode Island Avenue is a good example of that. I generally drive the extra 10 minutes to get to the Home Depot in Falls Church to get better customer service and a far cleaner store.

by Lance on Jul 6, 2010 10:11 pm • linkreport

@Jazzy, Where else is the super cheap and oft times exploited labor going to come from?

There's still India and perhaps 90% of the globe's population that would jump at the chance of producing goods that will allow them to work their way out of poverty as has occured in China. I wouldn't worry about losing sources for our goods. It's a small global world now. The reason we didn't see this before was because the costs of intra-global communications and transportation were relatively higher. The opportunity for peoples to better themselves, as the Chinese have done, is out there now and not going to go away.

by Lance on Jul 6, 2010 10:15 pm • linkreport

My point in mentioning China is that labor there is becoming more vocal and stronger, and so inexpensive labor might be a thing of the past, sooner or later. China undercut Mexico, for example. Will India undercut China? India with its greater democracy may or may not put up with the low wages being demanded of them by multinationals. I don't know. I'd tend to think maybe not, and maybe not on the scale that China has provided.

by Jazzy on Jul 6, 2010 11:56 pm • linkreport

There's still India and perhaps 90% of the globe's population that would jump at the chance of producing goods that will allow them to work their way out of poverty as has occured in China.
I disagree. China's export success is more than simply a supply of cheap labor. The country has a political climate thoroughly devoted to export-dependent economic growth. This manifests itself in more than just slogans and cheerful ads in the back of the Economist. This means that the port, rail, road, and electrical infrastructure necessary for an export economy actually gets built. This means that foreign investment is protected and welcomed, not scapegoated and expropriated.

This is the result of a political system that is ironically well-versed in capitalist economics but that pays little attention to democratic or populist details such as elections, environmental impact statements, public disclosure, "social equity", or even the consumption needs of its citizens.

No democracy on earth could accomplish this today; not India, not even the U.S. or even Switzerland. The few dictatorships left care little about private property rights, tend to blame foreigners for everything, and have mismanaged their economies to the point that their currencies are practically nonexchangeable and useless.

China is exceptional. No other nation on earth praises Chairman Mao while legislating like Grover Norquist.

by Eric Fidler on Jul 7, 2010 12:39 am • linkreport

"BUT Wal Mart's wages and benefits are almost criminally low."

This is one of the biggest myths out there. The majority of WalMart store employees are unskilled hourly workers. Pay and benefits for those workers will always be low. Stocking shelves requires no investment in education or training, and is a job that, quite frankly, any semi-able bodied human can do. Thus, there is no reason that it should pay more than the minimum wage (which, BTW, WalMart exceeds in most markets anyway).

Besides, many of these workers are either young workers (often in high school) or spouses working part time, and thus do not need their own health, retirement, etc benefits or even high wages for that matter.

In fact, Wal Mart does offer some form of health benefits (admittedly not great) to every single hourly worker. Trust me, your beloved "mom and pop" store on the corner isn't doing that. In fact, they probably are paying their workers under the table, offering no workers' comp or other protections, and hiring and firing at will (all things Wal Mart and other major corporations don't do).

by urbaner on Jul 7, 2010 11:15 am • linkreport

Depends on the Mom and Pop store.

I won't disagree with you too much about Wal Mart employees - I won't do so here at least.

But one thing that's always made me laugh is the concept of "time thievery" put forth by Walmart management.

Gotta love it.

by Jazzy on Jul 7, 2010 11:22 pm • linkreport

Kudos to Metro for being proactive about safety. This needs to happen more often, before incidents can occur. And they even notified the Tri-State Oversight Committee like they're supposed to!

by Matthias on Jul 8, 2010 12:55 pm • linkreport

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